Good Habits
Theatre performance in Dutch with French subtitles

Conception and text: Manah Depauw and Marijs Boulogne with thanks to Ragna Aurich
Director: Marijs Boulogne
With: Manah Depauw, Ragna Aurich, Sarah Antoine, Yannick Duret, Natasha Nicora, Florane Veran, Pascale Petralia
Music: Jim Denley
Dramaturgy: Bart Capelle
Set and costumes: Ann Weckx
Light & technical direction: Danny Vandeput

Production: Margarita Production
Coproduction: Le Granit - Scène Nationale de Belfort, La Ferme du Buisson, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts
In collaboration with: kc nOna, Cultuurcentrum Mechelen
Supported by: Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie

Writers and performers Marijs Boulogne and Manah Depauw wrote a theatrical handbook on survival in their "archaic and erotic" style, then fiddled with three French-speaking Belgian actors and musicians and tree more from Argentina, the Netherlands and Australia: to cultivate Good Habits so that life remains an idyllic experience in a state of elation. 

Good Habits is their third joint creation and is more wide-ranging than the previous two. But still, the basic question remains the same: How to conform to life? How does the human being become part of, or escape, the moral codes imposed by a society that no longer has any values and spiritual aspirations, whose intrinsic violence disproves the ideal of happiness every day? And then what essentially is the ideal? They start reflecting: what fable of deceit, scandal and seduction in all its finery can be unleashed upon the audience? And what devices can the stage - the supreme place of illusion - deploy so that the flagrancy of disguise leaps into the spectators’ eyes while they delight its naïve trickery?

An ecstatic fable embellished with brainwashed stags, cheap fairies, painless bruises and a hunter of good manners. A circus of crocodile tears, a shadow play, a stuffed puppet, brightened with a utopian song without any hardness, and, finally, with a ukulele. What do we do after a great slaughter, after childbirth or after an orgasm … What do we do after that ecstasy, such as ecstasy has become through the overthrowing of rules, by embracing horror and delight at the same time? We wash our dirty hands and hark back to our 'good manners', which hold life together and guide our way back from the dead quiet.

What do you do after huge carnage?

"Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same", they say. For the first time, these women who have been used to hanging out in unusual venues are taking possession of a bijou little theatre. It is of the highest theatrical order, built at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the height of trompe-l'oeil, where, through a tacit agreement between the stage and the auditorium, convention reigns supreme, a paradise of "make-believe". Marijs and Manah are inspired by the Petit Théâtre Mercelis's Italian-style stage with velvet and stucco and - since the way a subject is performed says as much about it as it does about the story it is conveying - they are opening the old trunk of its charms, junk and old decors. They are shopping around in the theatre's ragbag of jumble.

In parallel to the writing, which they do together, on stage they test the suggestive power of old rags. They wonder how you can reinvent yourself as a huge carnage is coming to an end. What sort of dream can be suggested by the theatre of today? What morality? How can the urges of life live alongside the urges of death? In life. On a theatre stage. At the same time, form and content begin to feed off one another. They start concocting a theatrical "survival handbook": Good habits, that can be cultivated to pull the wool over our eyes so that life becomes an eternal idyll.
To create the illusion, there are some out-of-date ingredients that are no longer used, their gloss is removed before they are subjected to unrestrained reinvention by the actors, a costume designer and a painter. Dead branches, threadbare material, strange crinolines and a canvas painted in perspective, salvaged from the opera's stock, with holes made by oblivion, have made room for Endless Medication's watermelons, ketchup, dolls and Smarties... It is a very old, very contemporary battle which is going to bring them back to life. The writing is the frame: it interferes with a split nanosecond, an instant of post-trauma where everything real is suspended, where an eternity stretches out traversed by a thousand thoughts which re-set the clocks and the hour of choice of life or of death. The writing rummages around in this ecstasy - a philosophy of rapture - and in the price to be paid for exhilaration. Reappear? How? Disappear? How? Existential questions, yes, but more than anything, a challenge which provokes the essence of theatricality.
There are six actors and musicians this time, Belgian, Argentine, Australian, Dutch and French, with neither language or pasts in common. Each character will be born from the dressing-up trunk according to a scenario that Buelens Paulina hurls up in a nanosecond; and vice versa. They are invented "hugely damaged", made up with charcoal bruises; "brainwashed stags" with doe-like eyes and an antler bonnet; cheap fairies "whose tongue is a serpent biting its tail" and "a knight with a sad face", an improvised guarantor of good manners. They are a chimera and as such demand all liberties. For their fantasy set, the old forest scene, painted on panels, has been taken over by Olivier Pé, the sensual flower painter, who has unleashed upon it his placid and reassuring subconsciously glistening corollas which are as carnal as they are alluring.
The framework of the theatrical survival handbook is in place: the fake bucolic pastoral scene, the Brocéliande forest where the Holy Grail wavers between the desire for the "not serious" and the reality of the "serious", where the stubborn euphoria is to supplant all threat of suffering in man and lead humanity into a vegetative state. A fable on the medium of theatre, on reality and on the pleasure of believing what you wish to see, on the clairvoyant and on organised blindness, a tragedy based on a carnage and on the mad ecstasy preceding the carnage. A comedy without any doubts, for the drama is uncertain. A game on the audacity of being or not being. A crazy game, childish and fierce, where imagination starts off a chase which is open to reality.
by Claire Diez (Kunstenfestivadesarts 2005)

Performance dates
15, 17, 18, 19 May 2005 at 8.30pm - Petit Théâtre Mercelis, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts, Brussels, Belgium
16 May 2005 at 6pm - Petit Théâtre Mercelis, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts, Brussels, Belgium


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  • 1_good habits_photo by indra struyven
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